Outbound flight bookings from mainland China are surging, according to data from Trip.com Group, with a spike in demand expected for the upcoming Lunar New Year break at the end of January. Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand are leading the most popular destinations for Chinese travelers. Searches for visa applications have also grown over the past few months.
“We are optimistic about the tourism outlook,” Wendy Min, head of media and executive communications told CNN. On the morning of December 27th, the company recorded a staggering 254% increase in mainland China’s outbound flight bookings compared to a day earlier.
By 2019, China was the world’s largest outbound travel market by departure numbers and spending. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), travelers from China took 154.6 million trips abroad and spent nearly $255 billion. Thailand was the most popular destination with around 11 million Chinese tourists, as reported by CNN. According to Japan Tourism Statistics, Japan came second with 9.5 million Chinese people arriving in the country in 2019.
The latest policy announcement is encouraging. We expect strong pent-up demand and increasing consumer confidence.Wendy Min, head of executive communications at Trip.com
Singapore was the fastest-growing of all the destinations, with flight bookings leaping six-fold, followed by an average 400% jump in airline ticket orders for the other four destinations. Moreover, bookings for long-haul flights to the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia also grew.
Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hangzhou claimed the top five places as the most popular cities of departure in light of online searches for outbound flights. Meanwhile, the booming demand for international travel is further mirrored by a spike in interest among overseas tourists looking to visit China.
Data from Trip.com shows that bookings for inbound flights on December 27 rocketed 412% from the same period on Dec 26th. Australia, Germany, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong topped the list as the largest sources of inbound travelers.
A leap in the volume of travel orders comes as China’s National Immigration Administration announced on December 27 that starting January 8, 2023, it would handle Chinese citizens’ applications for ordinary passports for tourism, as well as resume permit issuance for mainland residents to visit Hong Kong for tourism and business purposes.
According to Ctrip platform, searches for outbound visas skyrocketed 300% as soon as news of China’s border reopening broke, with those for an entry permit to enter Hong Kong soaring five-fold.
Visa applicants on Ctrip platform over the past few months mostly comprised business travelers. After the removal of mandatory quarantine measures for inbound travelers was announced on the evening of December 26th, customers who consulted Ctrip on visa matters did so primarily for tourism purposes.
Restrictions imposed as Covid surges
Several countries around the world are imposing preventive measures on travelers from China as the number of Covid-19 cases in the country continue to grow. After almost three years of strict zero-Covid policies, China is starting to ease some of its restrictions, internally and internationally.
The country has lifted restrictions on Chinese citizens’ overseas trips and disease control measures targeting inbound travelers starting from January 8, 2023. China has started issuing passports for its citizens and visas for foreigners again, after stopping the procedures in March 2020. After relaxing some travel restrictions last month, it has been announced that mandatory quarantine periods will also be significantly shortened as of January.
Despite the initial hope, a new wave of infections seems to be spreading across the country. Official numbers cite about 5,000 cases per day, but many think the number is severely misinforming, the BBC reporting the “daily case load may be closer to a million”, with overwhelmed hospitals and a nationwide lack of basic medicine.
An emergency meeting of the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) took place on Wednesday January 4th to establish a coordinated approach to address the surge of Covid cases in China, after which EU member states’ agreed to recommend a negative Covid test for passengers traveling from China to the EU. Member States had previously been divided over the necessity of pre-departure testing of travelers coming from China.
Following the recommendation from the Commission’s Health Security Committee, government officials agreed on the necessity of pre-departure testing. The decision was taken in light of the Asian country’s decision to relax its travel restrictions and quarantine rules as of January 8th, despite a rise in the number of Covid cases on its territory.
Besides the requirement for a negative Covid test taken not more than 48 hours before departure from China, EU states are encouraged to conduct random on arrival testing of passengers and the sequence all positive results to strengthen surveillance of the epidemiological situation. Testing and sequencing of wastewater from airports with international flights and aircraft arriving from China is also strongly recommended.
The Council reminds countries to continue to promote vaccine sharing and the uptake of vaccines, including booster doses, among their own citizens, particularly for vulnerable groups. The IPCR recommends all passengers on flights to and from China to wear a medical mask or FFP2/N95/KN95 respirators and decided Member States will start issuing advice to incoming and outgoing international travelers coming from or destined for China.